Many women experience the feeling of “contractions” as they near their third trimester. If you are like me, you may have difficulty telling the difference between preterm labor symptoms vs Braxton Hicks. And this is more common than you think: Many of us are preprogrammed to doubt ourselves in order to not inconvenience someone else. Like many others, I have had doctors and nurses downplay or even dismiss my symptoms. My self-doubt had progressed so much that I found myself telling my doctors, “Yes, I’ve been feeling pain, but I think it’s just gas. It’s not a big deal.”
Right there is the problem. By downplaying your pain, your physicians are less likely to take you seriously. And it’s not necessarily their fault — you may even be leaving out important details without knowing.
I want to make sure that women know the difference between Preterm Labor vs Braxton Hicks, the outcome of real Preterm Labor contractions and when it’s time to call your doctor.
To read more about my personal experience with preterm labor check out my post here.
Braxton Hicks vs Preterm Labor: What is Braxton Hicks?
Many women experience Braxton Hicks contractions, and they’re extremely common. Also known as false contractions, you may feel a tightening in your abdominal muscles that comes and goes. Some also experience what feels like menstrual cramps for a short time. These symptoms can be sometimes painful, but should not last long.
If you want a quick way to test if what you are feeling is indeed Braxton Hicks:
- Change positions. Unlike real contractions, Braxton Hicks will sometimes subside when you change positions. Try laying on the opposite side. Or if you are sitting, try to stand and walk around for a bit.
- Frequency. Ask yourself: How frequent are your contractions? Is there a pattern? Braxton Hicks are both infrequent and irregular. You could feel one and then not feel another for weeks. When you begin to go into labor, your contractions will be frequent and become closer together.
- Strength. How strong are they? Is your pain increasing? Braxton Hicks should not increase in strength.
- Pain level. While they are usually uncomfortable, your symptoms should not be painful.
Braxton Hicks vs Preterm Labor: Is it Preterm Labor?
First of all, and perhaps most importantly: If you suspect you are having preterm labor, call your doctor immediately. You should not wait around or doubt your symptoms.
Catching preterm labor symptoms early can make a huge difference in your health, your baby’s health and your treatment options. Worst-case scenario, your doctor confirms they are not contractions and sends you home.
A few symptoms of Preterm Labor include:
- Continuity. Unlike Braxton Hicks, changing positions or walking around should not affect your contractions.
- Frequency. Are your symptoms becoming more frequent? Real contractions will become more frequent and closer together.
- Strength. Your contractions will begin to increase in strength over time.
- Pain level. Contractions are painful and will continue to gradually. If you are in pain, call your doctor immediately.
Here’s a helpful video that talks more about the signs of preterm labor:
Preterm labor occurs when your body goes into labor before 37 weeks.
In many cases, if caught early enough, these symptoms can be stopped. Your doctor may give you medication that will relax your uterus muscles and attempt to stop the contractions. This medicine raises your heartbeat and needs to be administered and monitored in a hospital.
You may be given the option of steroids which will help fast-track the development of your baby’s lungs. This is a precaution in case you go into preterm labor again. They may also prescribe you the hormone, Progesterone.
Progesterone is a hormone that your body naturally produces during the early stages of pregnancy, and it keeps your uterus from having contractions.
Braxton Hicks vs Preterm Labor: When should you call your doctor?
If you’re preterm and having any preterm labor symptoms, do not wait. There are so many websites that say to wait until you have 4-5 regular contractions in an hour — this is only true when you are full-term only. Preterm labor is the most serious when you are earlier than 34 weeks pregnant.
You want to catch your symptoms early. This gives your body and any medication the best chance at stopping your contractions.
If you are still having trouble differentiating your symptoms between preterm labor vs Braxton hicks, you should still call your doctor. They will know the correct questions to ask you and will tell you whether or not you should come in.